My first iPhone App… and 32 Ideas I’ve Abandoned

Today, I’m proud to announce an iPhone app I’ve been working on…

Negotiate It is a personal finance/productivity app that helps you save money. It shows you exactly what to say to operators in order to lower your cable and cell phone bills, or get your overdraft and credit card fees waived. The app also gives you a list of company phone numbers, a call log to keep track of your savings, reminders for when to re-negotiate, and more.

You can read all about our process for making this app in my guest post on Ramit Sethi’s blog. The post is super detailed, and worthwhile for anyone who’s considered creating an app.

And here’s a 3-minute video on how Negotiate It works:

Want to help us out? Ramit and I are trying to crack the Top 10 in iTunes’ Paid Productivity category (we need roughly 1,300 downloads), so anyone who downloads the app and signs up for Ramit’s newsletter (see bottom of post here) will get a few cool bonus gifts:

  • 45-minute video of me discussing app marketing with Chad Mureta (bestselling author of ‘App Empire‘), where we go in-depth on my initial launch strategy for Negotiate It. Chad’s been very successful in the app industry (he developed over 50 apps with more than 40 million global downloads), while my experience has been in marketing bestselling books.
  • Original marketing strategy I put together for Negotiate It. You can read this while watching the video, where Chad and I discuss which of my assumptions were right and wrong.
  • The proposal for Negotiate It that I sent to Ramit a few years ago. It’s a good example of how you can convince your boss to give you the “green light” for a project you want to execute.

I’m very happy and relieved that I was able to see this project through to completion. There were countless issues that came with developing an app (which you can read about in the guest post) but it was a fantastic learning experience.

This is my first online product that I’ve charged money for, so if you’d like to see more from me, cast your vote by downloading Negotiate It!

###

I’ve had countless ideas over the years, but I’ve abandoned nearly all of them. When I was younger, I had the energy to try almost anything that popped into my head. My efforts were solid, but I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I didn’t know any successful entrepreneurs so I had to rely on books and the web while I tried to piece things together.

I flopped over and over and over. I tried teaming up with friends, thinking we’d have better luck together. No dice. Just the blind leading the blind. Finally, I realized I needed to be working with people who actually had a track record and knew how to do this stuff if I ever wanted to pull it off myself.

My ability to say “No” to my own ideas slowly improved. I learned that the “light bulb rush” – where I’m struck with my own brilliance – was fleeting, and usually went away as soon as I talked to a smart person or did five minutes of research.

I’m now intimately familiar with how much effort it takes to execute a lucrative idea. The elation of pursuit is healthily balanced with the length of the road ahead. The lesson I had to learn over and over: you have to truly care about something in order to see it through, because you can’t do great work when your sole motivation is a pot of gold.

I thought it’d be fun to do a purge of some of my “jump to conclusions mat” ideas that I’ve let go over the years. You’re obviously welcome to borrow or emulate any of them. Just know two things: (1) a lot of these ideas sucked for reasons I didn’t initially understand, and (2) execution is EVERYTHING. The greatest idea in the world is worth nothing without vision, passion, and perseverance.

32 Ideas I’ve Abandoned

High School (2000-04)

1. Pop Rock Gum. My friend and I wondered why Pop Rocks didn’t make their own gum, so we experimented with mixing Bubblicious and Pop Rocks together. Our first few batches felt like chewing broken glass, but we eventually nailed a winning recipe. We started selling it for $0.50 a piece to classmates, and were making $30 per day at one point. I wrote in to Bubblicious and Pop Rocks headquarters about our results… and never heard back from either of them. A few years later, Pop Rocks started making their own gum (not as good as ours was!)

2. Flashing brake lights. We’re taught to pump the brakes to warn the cars behind us if we’ll be making a sudden stop. This is stupid in most cases, because you’re compromising your ability to stop in hopes of not getting rear-ended; the likelihood of a crash is high either way. I met with InventHelp — a pretty shady company, from what I’ve read — to discuss how to patent a brake light that flashes when the driver pushes the brakes with great force (the rep I spoke with was exceptionally proud that he’d helped bring the spinning lollipop concept to market). I was forced to retreat when I saw the patent price tag, plus I had no clue how to actually strike a deal with a major car company. The idea’s been done but clearly never went mainstream.

3. Sports reels and family reunion videos. I made a bunch of videos for high school sports teams, families, organizations, etc., and ended up selling the videos on DVD. Customers loved them, but the amount of money made did not justify the insane amount of work required. There’s a reason videographers charge a lot, and why they stick to weddings for their bread and butter.

4. Connect Four for TI-83 Plus. I created a working version of Connect Four on my calculator and tried selling it to classmates. No one was willing to pay, so I gave it away. Everyone already had easy access to free games that were even better than mine.

College (2004-08)

5. LIT Drink. Long Island Iced Tea pre-packaged in a Red Bull-sized can (here’s the sell sheet). I had this idea while I was in New Zealand, after seeing how well the Jack Daniels and Coke drinks sold in bars. Long Islands sold really well in Fort Collins, but if you wanted to make one yourself, it cost at least $100 for all the ingredients. There wasn’t much on the market: Salvador’s made a cheap (and gross) pre-mixed Long Island that came in 4-pack of mini-plastic bottles, and there were 750 mL bottles that bartenders used (minus the sweetening ingredients). I remember waking up early to call distilleries on the East Coast to see if it was possible to license the idea (it’s not), and my friend and I arranged a meeting with a former Mike’s Hard Lemonade exec. He warned us that as soon as we had traction with the brand, one of the bigger alcohol companies would come in, make a cheaper product, and dominate the market first.

6. Training Week Meals. Subscription recipe service for high school and college athletes. The athlete selects their health goals, and the site provides a weekly grocery list and recipes – compiled by professional athletes, expert nutritionists, or their coaches – along with detailed nutrition facts for each meal. Potential to partner with supplement and vitamin companies, local grocery stores, catering companies, etc.

7. Artist community. Artists upload photos and videos of their art (furniture, paintings, etc.). Fans get to vote on ideas for things to create, and those items are put on sale exclusively to the fans – for bidding or flat-rate.

8. YourCore. Customizable homepage with drag-and-drop widgets. My friend and I started designing this idea, and hired a local coder to assemble the site. Unfortunately, the result was underwhelming, and – like so many other naïve college students – we assumed ads would eventually fund our endeavor. Then NetVibes and iGoogle came out, so we abandoned ship.

9. Been Here Do This. Fun activity ideas for tourists and study abroad students. Users could mark areas of the map, describe activity, and post photos. Basically a niche version of Yelp. I tried creating this myself in Dreamweaver and quickly learned what a nightmare it was to make websites.

10. Custom beer pong tables. After making one with my roommates and getting positive feedback, we considered creating others and selling them… except none of our friends were willing to pay. (Sidenote: I also wanted to do beer branding for soldiers — Brewjitsu, Nicolas Rage, and Ale Qaeda)

Post-College (2008-Present)

11. The MacGuff. My friend Aidan and I started building an online film school in 2008 (along with a blog called The Projectionist), even though neither of us were experts on the topic. We were able to recruit a few really talented people from Hollywood to be members, then we sat by idly, waiting for them to create content for us. What a horribly deranged assumption! Communities take a ton of work to get up and running, and they depend on compelling content, strong ties, and leadership. We had none of those elements.

12. ‘Think and Grow Rich’ of Parenting Books. Interviews with successful parents of society’s biggest contributors, finding common factors in how their children were raised, what values were instilled, etc. This would probably do pretty well, but I’m not the target market.

13. Custom Nootropics. Subscription service for smart drug supplements which allows you to adjust quantities for each ingredient. You can save your favorite formulas, see which ingredients synthesize properly, etc. Too many health and legal issues to deal with here. Not worth the hassle, and I’m not a big fan of nootropics anyways.

14. Travel-friendly suitcase. A carry-on bag that ejects your laptop at the press of a button. I hate having to whip out my laptop at airport security, but this idea is too gimmicky and not that practical. There are already laptop-friendly bags on the market. I also don’t travel enough to justify caring about this too much.

15. CleanSlate. Homeless people are EVERYWHERE in San Francisco, and the disparity between them and the brilliant minds walking by to go work at their tech startups seemed particularly crazy one day. I thought I had something that might improve the issue (which you can read about here), but after doing more research and talking with friends who’d spent a lot of time in homeless shelters, I saw that tech alone will never come close to repairing this problem. The systems that truly help the homeless are holistic, and require an incredible amount of resources.

16. Facebook Idiots. I made a site where users could submit screenshots of their friends posting funny things on Facebook. I lost enthusiasm for the concept after about ten minutes. Two weeks after I killed the site, Lamebook (much better name) was born.

17. Standing desk kits. I drew up a bunch of concepts for this, but couldn’t come up with anything compelling. Wiring and the need for desk drawers makes this somewhat difficult. And while the market is growing, the demand still isn’t really there. I also thought about just making an e-book with stretches and exercises that focus on alleviating prolonged sitting.

18. Frozen Paleo foods. At the time, I couldn’t find any frozen Paleo dinners in Whole Foods, and my roommates and I were lazy when it came to cooking. I’m not sure there are enough Paleo enthusiasts at this point… Nevertheless, Amy’s Organic is going to be a billion dollar company within a few years, and they started with a frozen potpie.

19. Gadget Club. Similar to Trunk Club — monthly package for early adopter males, giving them access to the latest gadgets. Amazon basically does this with their Vine program. Could also do this for jewelry, books, movies, etc.

20. Natural cures e-books for niche pain points. Tooth pains, acne, etc.  This would be profitable because you’re targeting desperate buyers and could show before/after photos, but it would require a lot of work and SEO. No enthusiasm for this project at all.

21. Daily deals site for college students. You could offer: concert tickets, munchies, health foods, video games, gadgets, beer making kits, Halloween costumes, pizza coupons, discounts at local restaurants, posters, and a delivery service. This could do really well, especially if you start small (focus on dorms, figure out most wanted items, get people on subscription, etc.)

22. Snorricams. You know those shots in ‘Requiem for a Dream’ where the camera has a steady close-up on the person’s face while they’re moving around? The device that makes that shot possible is called the Snorricam, and you can’t buy them – you have to make your own. Because it’s a specialty item with low demand, this could never be profitable unless you did a line extension and offered a ton of other camera rigs.

23. Medical tourism site. Connect uninsured people with reputable doctors and surgeons overseas, handle their itinerary, and earn a commission. This reeks of complications, plus most people aren’t even aware of the concept of medical tourism. Way too much hassle.

24. CDBaby for film. Monthly subscription to high-quality independent films. I still like this concept and hope someone pulls it off.

25. Best Man Online Crash Course. Videos and checklists to throw a great bachelor party and dominate your best man speech. Could easily charge $50-200 for this.

26. DIY Bamboo Bike DVD. My friend and I tested this concept on eBay (before creating the product) to see if anyone would buy it. Two people did over the course of a couple weeks, which wasn’t enough demand.

27. Delicious for learning. You bookmark an article, and gain points when other people click your bookmark and save it to their account (i.e. you’re rewarded for directing others to valuable content).

28. Startup bank. Escrow system that automates payments for startup equity splits. Each founder/employee/advisor enters in their banking information, and the site pays proper percentages quarterly or after specific milestones.

29. Envato for iPhone/iPad. Marketplace of creative assets for mobile app developers.

Mobile Apps

30. FlyBuy. Mobile app that lists all of your frequent flier miles, displaying the number of points you have next to each program. When you hit a threshold, the app notifies you that you’ve earned a free flight. Plenty of partnership and advertising opportunities here. This idea was executed brilliantly by MileWise, which I highly recommend.

21. Astrology compatibility app. Compatibility sites are always popular and result in fun conversations, and Facebook allows you to instantly extract a complete list of your friends’ birthdays. This app would allow you to see your match level with your friends based on your sign.

32. FanCast. Celebrities can send 30-second voicemails and videos straight to their fans. Enable localized targeting so they can personalize messages to different cities while touring (e.g. Send a message for people to buy tickets to tomorrow night’s concert, or send a thank you message for attending). This could be white-labeled and made into an app for individual bands and celebrities.

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and it hinders your progress when you hold a thought too close to your chest. Your vision, passion, and perseverance are what will change the world.

###

Here are some great resources to spark your creative juices:

  • Springwise. One of my favorite sources of inspiration, offering daily posts on new business ideas and trends.
  • Kickstarter. See which ideas get funded by the masses.
  • Quirky. This site can help bring your ideas to life.
  • How to create a million dollar business this weekend. Comprehensive step-by-step post, written by Noah Kagan (founder of AppSumo, Gambit, early employee of Facebook and Mint).
  • One Simple Idea. Awesome book on how to license your ideas, written by Stephen Key (inventor whose products have sold in Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, Disney Stores and theme parks).
  • Shark Tank. One of my all-time favorite shows.

Comments

  1. Jason says

    Charlie,

    During the bonus interview with Chad Mureta you mentioned some free code you used for Negotiate It that let you encourage users to review the app after they saved some money using it (36 minute mark of video).

    You couldn’t remember the name at the time, but I was hoping you could share it here.

    Thanks,

    Jason

  2. Mose Cagen says

    Really enjoyed this post. Love some of these ideas you had, reminds me of some of my short lived ideas and the snowballing mindset that they can lead you into :)

    Glad to hear the app is doing so well right off the bat. Sounds like you are doing really well. Happy to hear it my friend.

  3. Joe A. says

    These are awesome, even the bad ones = fun reading. Thanks for having sharing all this.

    My favorite idea was Best Man Online Course. Would def buy that, but how do you target or market to upcoming / would-be best men?

    If there was 1 resource I would add to your dope list at end, would be http://inhabitat.com/
    So much different stuff here, almost as cool as Springwise.

    When I saw your Natural cures idea, immediately thought of this guy:

    http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Cures-They-Dont-About/dp/0975599593/

  4. Lindsey S says

    Hi Charlie -

    First time reader here – I heard about you from Ramit’s interview: http://www.writerviews.com/ramit-sethi-i-will-teach-you-to-blog/ – and I hope this comment finds you well.

    I love your ideas. I love the fact that you were not afraid to share them, that you organized them somewhat chronologically, and that you provided some substantive comment to each one, even providing links were applicable. This was somewhat inspirational because I am an idea girl, and I do exactly what you say not to – hold them in. I think I’m going to take a stab of all the ideas I’ve had of late in a similar fashion (I’ll shoot you a link if I DO end up doing it).

    Second, I wanted to mention that author/blogger James Altucher would be proud of you exercising your “idea muscle.” I read a great e-book of his several months ago called How to be the Luckiest Person Alive (http://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Luckiest-Person-Alive/dp/1461120705/ref=la_B001IOBN80_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1353531728&sr=1-3). While it rambled and repeated itself a bit (it was clear this was a self-published book), the messages were clear. One of his major messages was the importance of exercising this idea muscle. As I’m sure you know, you “create” luck for yourself by putting yourself in favorable positions to be lucky. Ramit stresses this, and so does Altucher. The book is refreshing reading mostly like an autobiography. Also, it’s a quick read and I hope that you will give it a shot because it seems like a story you’d appreciate.

    Cheers and continued success with the app!
    Lindsey

    • Charlie says

      Thanks for the comment Lindsey. I’m a big fan of James’ writing, he’s great. And I’m pretty sure I read the book you linked to at one point, as well.

  5. Guilherme Nunes says

    Thx a lot for forwarding me the link Charlie.
    I would go so far as categorize this a top 5 article in the whole internet within the category: “Motivational Articles to promt you to action”

    I printed it out and will keep it in a special place!

Tell me what you think...